'The entire company is toxic': Allegations of abuse, harassment at Stella's chain surface on social media

A Winnipeg chain of restaurants is hiring an outside human resources firm to investigate after a series of allegations about the company surfaced on social media Thursday.

Winnipeg restaurant chain says it has hired outside firm to review policies surrounding workplace safety

An Instagram account called 'Not My Stella's' began posting accounts Thursday from people who say they are past and current employees of the Winnipeg chain and allege it is a toxic workplace. (Ron Boileau/Radio-Canada)

A Winnipeg restaurant chain is consulting with a human resources firm after a series of allegations about workplace harassment, unfair treatment of staff, racism, and sexual assault surfaced on social media Thursday.

An Instagram account called "Not My Stella's" began posting accounts from people who say they are past and current employees of the chain, which includes seven restaurants in Winnipeg.

"I currently work at Stella's and the entire company is toxic. TOXIC," one post read.

"Sexual harassment. Gaslighting. Competitive. I have received sexual advances ON THE CLOCK from more than one manager."

One of the posts on the Not My Stella's Instagram account. (NotMyStellas/Instagram)

Another post said, "I managed there and have been gone for some time, but there is not a day that goes by that I am not haunted by my experiences."

More than 150 posts featuring what appear to be screen grabs of submitted messages appear on the account's page, which has over 5,000 followers.

The posts not only detail allegations of abuse of staff, but also a culture of fear about reporting the instances to management and cases where people have been fired for doing so.

CBC News has not verified the identities of the people posting on the account. CBC contacted the anonymous creators of the account but an interview request was declined, with the responder saying they would speak at a later time.

The creators of the account have not revealed their identities, but say they are a group of current and former Stella's Cafe employees. (NotMyStellas/Instagram)

A statement posted on the Instagram account said it's owned by a group of current and former Stella's Cafe employees who came together to share their experiences and provide support to each other.

The statement also accuses Stella's of failing to protect female, transgender and non-binary employees.

'We want you to be safe and to feel safe'

Stella's released a statement Friday stating the chain has hired People First, a human resources company, to review their policies and procedures on workplace safety.

"Recently, Stella's has become aware of activity by a few individuals on social media that is critical of us," read a statement from the company's owners, Tore Sohlberg and Lehla Abreder.

"At Stella's, we believe in freedom of expression and we accept that, as a family business with over 500 employees in Manitoba, we must be held to a high standard of conduct."

The company has pledged to review the complaints made on social media. (Ron Boileau/Radio-Canada)

The company said it was committed to providing a safe space for everyone, both employees and customers.

"No matter your gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, you are welcome at Stella's. We want you to be safe and to feel safe, at Stella's."

In the statement, the company also said it will establish a "whistleblower line" that all employees would have access to.

The company declined an interview, saying it wouldn't be appropriate to comment outside of the investigative process.

"We do not believe that it would be constructive to try to publicly address matters raised in social media. We believe that all concerned individuals deserve to be treated with utmost respect and dignity, and their privacy must be respected," the company's statement said.

"For those who are critical of us, we regret that we have let you down."

1 withdrawn complaint: Labour board

Grant Anderson, Stella's vice-president of operations, initially told CBC by phone that the allegations would be investigated by a third party, but the written statement from the company only says they will be "reviewed."

He also said the company was not aware of any outstanding complaints against the restaurant with the Manitoba Labour Board or the Human Rights Commission.

The Manitoba Labour Board said there was only one previous complaint against the company, which was made in September, but it had been withdrawn, so it was not necessary for the board to provide a decision on the matter.

The labour board confirmed there were no other past or outstanding complaints.

The Manitoba Human Rights Commission said it is not able to confirm or deny if a complaint has been filed unless the commission investigates a matter and determines it should be referred to a public hearing.​

Read the statement from Stella's:

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About the Author

Holly Caruk

Video Journalist

Holly Caruk is a video journalist with CBC Manitoba. She began her career as a photo journalist in 2007 and began reporting in 2015. Born and raised in Manitoba, Holly is a graduate of the University of Manitoba's film studies program and Red River College's creative communications program. Email: holly.caruk@cbc.ca